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Equality Denied: The Status of Women in Policing

NCJ Number
Penny Harrington; Alex Besser; Rachael Berger; Patricia Aguirre; Eleanor Smeal; Kathy Spillar
Date Published
18 pages
The second annual study on the status of women in law enforcement, conducted by the National Center for Women and Policing, examines gains and gaps in the number of women in policing, describes the progress of women in policing, identifies barriers that prevent women from increasing their numbers in law enforcement, and examines detrimental effects of the continued underrepresentation of women in police departments.
The study indicates that women comprised only 13.8 percent of all sworn law enforcement positions nationwide in 1998, an increase of only 0.5 percent over 1997 and 3.2 percent over 1990 when women comprised 10.6 percent of all sworn law enforcement officers. In 1998, women held only 7.5 percent of top law enforcement positions, 9.6 percent of supervisory positions, and 14.7 percent of line operation positions. In addition, women continued to hold a majority of lower-paid civilian law enforcement positions. Of police agencies surveyed, 61.4 percent said they gave preference to candidates who were veterans or had previous military experience. These policies reinforced barriers to women in policing by favoring a background disproportionately represented by men. The study clearly indicates women cannot achieve equality in law enforcement agencies. Further, much of the progress of women has only occurred when female police officers and women's organizations have taken legal actions to fight discriminatory hiring and promotion practices and when court-ordered consent decrees have forced police agencies to increase the number of women hired and promoted. The effects of the underrepresentation of women in police agencies are discussed in terms of police brutality costs, police effectiveness in responding to domestic violence, police-community relations, and sexual harassment and sexual discrimination lawsuits. 9 tables and 6 graphs